National Academy of Engineering Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 10
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Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 10

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             KENNETH D.NICHOLS                                        183
                          KENNETH D.NICHOLS
                                 BY JOHN W.SIMPSON
                GENERAL KENNETH DAVID NICHOLS was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in
            1907. He entered West Point in 1925 and was graduated fifth in his class of
            1929, receiving a B.S. degree.
                He reported to Fort Humphreys (now Fort Belvoir), Virginia, on September
            13, 1929, as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Corps of Engineers and was assigned
            to the U.S. Army Engineer Battalion in Nicaragua for survey work on the
            proposed Nicaraguan Inter-Oceanic Canal. He was awarded the Nicaraguan
            Medal of Merit for work done after the Managua earthquake in March 1931.
                General Nichols attended Cornell University from July 1931 to June 1933
            and received the degrees of civil engineer and master of civil engineering. He
            reported to Vicksburg as assistant director of the U.S. Waterways Experiment
            Station. This station was engaged primarily in experimental work in conjunction
            with flood control on the Mississippi River and with river and harbor
            responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
                In 1932 he married Jacqueline Darrieulat. They had two children, Jacqueline
            Ann and Kenneth David, Jr.
                In 1934 to 1935, on orders from the War Department, General Nichols
            attended the Technische Hochschule, Charlottenburg, Berlin, Germany, under a
            fellowship of the Institute of International Education, established for the purpose
             KENNETH D.NICHOLS                                        184
             of studying European hydraulic research methods. There followed successive
             tours of duty at Vicksburg; the State University of Iowa, where he received a
             Ph.D. degree in hydraulic engineering; Fort Belvoir; and West Point, where he
             served four years as an instructor in the Department of Civil and Military
             Engineering at the U.S. Military Academy.
                After leaving West Point in 1941, General Nichols served as area engineer in
             charge of construction of the Rome Air Depot, Rome, New York, and the
             Pennsylvania Ordnance Works at Williamsport.
                In July 1942 General Nichols was selected for assignment to a special corps
             of engineers organization set up in the summer of 1942 by President Franklin
             D.Roosevelt for developing and producing the atomic bomb. This project became
             known as the Manhattan Engineer District, and General Nichols was initially
             assigned as deputy district engineer and subsequently in August 1943, as district
             engineer. In this capacity, General Nichols supervised the research and
             development connected with—and the design, construction, and operation of all
            plants required for—the production of plutonium and uranium-235, including the
            construction of the towns of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Richland, Washington.
            His office at Oak Ridge became the administrative center of the wartime atomic
            energy activities. The project involved the expenditure of approximately two
            billion dollars.
                The district engineer to whom General Nichols reported directly was
            General Leslie R.Groves, commanding general of the Manhattan Project. General
            Nichols continued to serve with the Manhattan District until the responsibilities
            for atomic energy were turned over to the United States Atomic Energy
            Commission in January 1947. At that time, he was appointed professor of
            mechanics at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
            Although this was intended to be a permanent appointment, the pressure of
            atomic energy work first required his service as a consultant to the U.S.
            delegation to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission and to the Military
            Liaison Committee to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Early in 1948, with
            the increase in international tension, he was relieved from
             KENNETH D.NICHOLS                                        185
             duty at West Point, promoted to the grade of major general, and assigned as chief
             of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project. This project was a joint Army-
             Navy-Air Force command charged with atomic weapon logistical training
             responsibilities. He served as chief of this project from 1948 until January 1951.
             During the same period, he was deputy director for Atomic Energy Matters,
             Plans, and Operations Division of the general staff of the U.S. Army and was
             senior army member of the Military Liaison Committee to the U.S. Atomic
             Energy Commission (AEC).
                In the fall of 1950, when Mr. K.T.Keller was appointed director of guided
             missiles for the Department of Defense, General Nichols was assigned as deputy
             director of guided missiles and was the principal assistant to Mr. Keller in
             discharging his responsibilities for advising and assisting the secretary of defense
             in the research and development and production of Army, Navy, and Air Force
             guided missiles. He continued to serve with Mr. Keller until the completion of his
             assignment in September 1953.
                In January 1952 the Army reorganized its research and development
             activities. At that time, General Nichols was appointed chief of research and
             development, U.S. Army, in addition to his other duties as deputy director of
             guided missiles.
                On October 31, 1953, General Nichols retired from the Army in order to
             accept appointment as general manager of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.
             During his tenure, the AEC started the nuclear reactor demonstration program,
             which led to the building of five types of experimental reactors. At this time the
             AEC was involved in the controversy over J.Robert Oppenheimer, the nuclear
             physicist who directed the development of the first atomic bomb. Oppenheimer
             was dropped as a consultant to the AEC and stripped of his security clearance
             after he was accused of being a security risk. General Nichols resigned from this
             post in April 1955 and, as a registered professional engineer in the state of
             Maryland, worked as a consulting engineer in the fields of research and
             development and commercial atomic power. His consulting firm was retained for
             various lengths of time by the following organizations: the Aluminum Company
             of America, the Carborundum Company; Koppers Company, Inc.; Gulf Oil
             Corporation; Westinghouse Electric Corporation; Detroit Edison
             KENNETH D.NICHOLS                                        186
             Company; Yankee Atomic Electric Company; Firestone Tire and Rubber
             Company; Edison Electric Institute; Aerojet-General Corporation; Chas. T.Main;
             Inca; Panama Canal Company; the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission;
             Consolidation Coal Company; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and the
             Electric Power Research Institute. He was an associate of the Overseas Advisory
             Associates, Inc.
                General Nichols was a director of the Detroit Edison Company, Fruehauf
             Corporation, and Gallery Chemical Company, chairman of the board of
             Westinghouse International Atomic Power Company Ltd. (Geneva, Switzerland),
             chairman of the board of Westinghouse Nadge Associates, a director and vice-
             president of the Army Distaff Foundation, a member of the Secretary of the
             Army’s Scientific Advisory Panel, a member of the Permanent International
             Commission of the Permanent International Association of Navigation
             Congresses, a member of the Advisory Board of Directors of the Association of
             the U.S. Army, and a trustee of the Thomas Alva Edison Foundation. He served
             as a member-at-large, Division of Engineering and Industrial Research of the
             National Research Council; as a member of the Advisory Committee on Civil
             Defense of the National Research Council; as a member of the Project Committee
             of the National Academy of Engineering; as a member of the Advisory
             Committee to the Department of Housing and Urban Development of the
             National Academies of Sciences and Engineering. In the field of nuclear power,
             he served as a member of the Committee of the Atomic Industrial Forum Study
             of the Cost and Price Structure for Enriched Uranium. For the Atomic Industrial
             Forum, he chaired the Study Committee on Uranium Enrichment Services
             Criteria and Projected Charges in 1965 and the Study Committee on Private
             Ownership and Operation of Uranium Enrichment Facilities in 1968. He was a
             member of the Steering Group of the Ad Hoc Senior Management Uranium
             Enrichment Policy Committee for the Atomic Industrial Forum Uranium,
             Enrichment Report in 1972.
                General Nichols was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and
            the West Point Society of the District of Columbia, a fellow of the American
            Nuclear Society, and an honor
             KENNETH D.NICHOLS                                        187
             ary member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He was awarded
             the U.S. Distinguished Service Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster), the U.S. Atomic
             Energy Commission’s Distinguished Service Award, the Most Excellent Order of
            the British Empire (Degree of Commander), and the Collingwood Prize
            (American Society of Civil Engineers). In 1984 he received the Chiefs of
            Engineers Award for outstanding public service.
                In 1987 General Nichols completed his personal account of how America’s
            nuclear policies were made. His book, entitled The Road to Trinity, was published
            by William Morrow and Company.
                In June 1990 General and Mrs. Nichols moved from their farm near Sugar
            Loaf Mountain, Maryland, where they had lived for more than twenty years.
            General Nichols died of respiratory failure on February 21, 2000, at the age of
            ninety-three. At the time of his death, he lived at the Brighton Gardens retirement
            home in Bethesda, Maryland. Survivors include his wife, Jacqueline, of
            Bethesda; their daughter, Jacqueline Anne Thompson of Bethesda, and their son,
            Kenneth David Nichols, Jr., of Olympia, Washington; and four grandchildren,
            Catherine Anne Nichols, Kenneth David Nichols III, Nicole Therese Thompson,
            and Anthony J.Thompson, Jr.
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